BRANDON — When Javier Nava went to his backyard garden in 2009 and picked up a basket full of bell peppers, tomatoes and jalapenos, his thoughts immediately went back to his youth, when his Mexican mother would dice and mix those ingredients with onions, cilantro and even oregano to create unforgettable salsa.
What his friends tasted and smelled when they tried it became a second career for the Brandon man who is a retired corrections officer from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. They pictured him making that salsa for the masses and told him so.
Nava has been selling Javi’s Authentic Mexican Salsa in local green markets for a couple of years now. In a fun effort to expand his reach, he’s offering a $2,500 “reward” to the person or team that comes up with the best video to market his preservative-free sauce.
So far, students from the Art Institute of Tampa have climbed on board, but the competition is open to anyone, said Nava’s publicist, Peter Vaka, of Newsline Marketing in Tampa. It was Vaka who came up with the idea of a reward, kind of a take-off on the Crime Stoppers rewards used to get tips on crimes.
The students at the art institute have embraced the competition, said Justin Padilla, assistant chair of the film and photography department.
“Here at the school we are always trying to get students involved with things outside of the classroom,” Padilla said. “Any kind of real world experience they can get will certainly teach them more than what they’d learn just from a book. This is a way they can let their creativity run wild.”
And the creativity is flowing, he said. Most of the stories are in development still, but there are some pretty humorous ideas and concepts. One uses Javi’s salsa in everyday activities like shaving and mowing the grass. It’s kind of a ‘You can use it anywhere’ thing. At least seven different students or teams are working on different projects, Padilla said.
“And since the deadline isn’t until the end of the year, I’m sure there will be more to come,” he said.
Sharri Nava, Javi’s wife, is anxious to see what contestants come up with.
“We want a catchy slogan, maybe some dancing, a real use of creativity,” she said. “When you open a jar of our salsa, it’s freshness. That direct, fresh flavor is there,” she said. “You can taste all the herbs and flavors.” And that’s what they want to come across in the video, she said.
The Navas son, Eric, said his favorite of the four varieties his dad makes is the hot salsa. The Extra Hot and the Super Caliente are a bit much for his taste buds, but he said he has friends who go right for the spicier jar.
“There’s the heat, plus the flavor,” Eric Nava said, as he watched his father chop and blend red and green bell peppers, chili peppers, jalapenos and cilantro, preparing a fresh version of his speciality. “The thing is, the heat doesn’t overpower the flavor,” he said. “You get both. I have some friends that are super fans of the Super Caliente.”
“We’ve made it for all our friends, our church family supports us and the sheriff’s office has helped get the word out,” to Nava’s former coworkers, Sharri Nava said. “It’s fresh, all-natural ingredients and you can see that in the jar.”
If there’s a secret to the flavor of Javi’s Authentic Mexican Salsa, Javier Nava’s not telling. But he did divulge that he uses oregano. While his mother cooked traditional cultural foods, she had an aunt who worked in a restaurant, which is likely where she got the idea to use oregano in her Mexican dishes, Nava said.
The technique got passed down, as Nava worked to replicate the tastes and smells of his mother’s Mexican kitchen, he said.
Nava said he is anxious to find a distributor to get his salsa in to more stores and over to Florida’s east coast and he believes the video could help him accomplish that.
The video contest is open to all legal U.S. residents. Entries can be 30 or 60 seconds long and in any style, including animation, documentary, drama or comedy. The work must be original. The videos must be turned in by Dec. 30. All the contest rules and details are on the website, www.javissalsa.com.
The first two runners-up will receive $1,000, each and the second two runners-up will be rewarded $500 each.
Right now, the salsa is for sale online for $4.99 a 16-ounce jar, Nava said, and can be purchased at local farm stands like Collins Produce at State Road 60 and St. Cloud Avenue in Valrico and at Wolfe’s Produce at U.S. 301 and Bloomingdale Avenue. But he would also like to see it on store shelves like Whole Foods and other natural food grocers. And the video — along with a national spokesman — could make that happen, he said.